Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Amateur physics

Interesting, but completely bullshit article in Slate on Other Theories of Physics.  The subtitle says it all: "Amateurs around the world take on the priesthood of mainstream science." 

By the way, whenever someone talks about the "priesthood" of science, red flags should instantly pop up - it's a phrase almost exclusively used by cranks to support pseudoscientific ideas.

Anyway, the article talks about people who, without any background in mainstream science, develop alternative "theories" in physics.  One such person profiled is "Jim Carter, a trailer-park owner in Enumclaw, Wash." who developed his own "theory of everything" based on the idea that all matter is composed of little donut-shaped particles (shown at left) called "circlons" (another characteristic of cranks, by the way, is that they invent their own terminology).  His ideas are featured in a series of self-published books including The Other Theory of Physics (why yes, self-publishing is another sign of a crank).

So what's Carter's expertise?  He took one semester of college and thought "that what was being taught in physics departments was an offense to common sense."  Damn physicists with their fancy PhDs.  What do they know?

The author then claims we shouldn't treat these people like cranks and dump the crazy ass letters they write to physics professors in the trash.  Why? Well, one reason is that there's a lot of them and they have an organization - the Natural Philosophy Alliance, whose database lists more than 2,100 theorists, 5,800 papers, and more than 1,300 books worldwide.

Ahem... Couldn't we say the same about young-Earth creationists?  Organizations like Answers in Genesis have pretty websites with lots of members too but they're batshit crazy.

Then the author states:

"They are unanimous in the view that mainstream physics has been hijacked by a kind of priestly caste who speak a secret language—in other words, mathematics—that is incomprehensible to most human beings. They claim that the natural world speaks a language which all of us can, or should be able to, understand."

So let me understand this...  Just because most people can barely add two numbers together, and have no hope of understanding higher mathematics, physics is somewhow wrong.  It's un-American.  Un-democratic.  Elitist.  Like the scientific gibberish at left.

The article closed with:

While we may not agree with the answers outsiders give, none of us should be sanguine when some of the greatest fruits of science are unavailable to most of humankind.

I guess the author has never read Stephen Hawking, Brian Greene, Michio Kaku, and many other physicists who've written books attempting to translate concepts in physics into language accessible to average readers.

Here's a clue...  When some dude in a trailer park with barely a high school diploma claims to have a "theory of everyhing" that will overturn hundreds of years of physics, he's probably full of shit.

They both have ideas about how the universe formed

1 comment:

  1. Just because somebody lacks qualifications, it does not mean they cannot come up with revolutionary ideas. Newton was not a qualified minter, but when he took charge of the Royal Mint, he added markings around the rim of coins to foil the coin clippers.

    Also physics is always partly right and partly wrong. Usually if there is even a shadow of a doubt about a theory, then there is something seriously wrong with it.

    Finally people like Stephen Hawking are not really attempting to translate concepts in physics into language accessible to average readers, what they are doing is fleecing gullible fools with nonsense like wormholes, time travel, multiverses, and multiple dimensions.